If TV gets its own Land, then Bravo deserves its own Country.
In the new reality travel show, “Tour Group,” the cable station known for the “Real Wives” franchise stamps its own culture and customs on a “Real Trip” around the world. The series, which premiered March 1 and returns May 10, follows three tour-guide-sitters and 11 strangers on an epic swing through six countries. During their six-week journey, the participants inhale new adventures and exhale their old dysfunctions.
“Travel is the most transformative experience you can have,” intones Brandon Presser, who shepherds the group with two other experts — Rachel Grant, a travel writer, and Sandhurst Miggins, a former international model and current airline employee.
The tour group members represent the standard reality-TV population: Amy and Heather are Vegas gal pals with conflicting views on commitment and clothes; Jared is a successful financial player; Jay is a goofball with a wandering eye (“I may be married but I’m not dead”); Jeff and Jetta are married and surprisingly happy (for now?); Jenna and Misty are estranged twins; Michael and Steven are bumpkin half-bros with charming drawls; and Michelle is an acerbic mother with a modeling career and a divorce behind her. And if remembering 11 names and backstories becomes too taxing, the network assigns the participants nicknames, such as the Travel Virgins, the Gossip, the Entrepreneur and the Re-Newlyweds.
The initial two episodes feel like familiar Bravo territory. There are a lot of exposed body parts (e.g., the hammam disrobing in Marrakesh), feline fights (the eat-a-hamburger incident in Morocco) and chuckle-groan moments of the First World kind. For example, on a bus ride in Morocco, Model Mom protests the tradition of using camels as pack animals. One of the Twins interrupts her animal-rights speech to point out an extraordinary sight.
“There’s a Costco!” Misty exclaims.
“Where?” MoMom replies excitedly, instantly forgetting her cause.
A second instance: At the Sahara Palace in Marrakesh, Amy, of the Vegas Girls, expresses her fear of the Islamic State and militants; Heather admits her anxiety about finding a good hair salon. Her concerns escalate after the group’s luggage is waylaid in Cairo. At Maasai Mara in Kenya, Heather howls like a wounded beast over her missing hair dryer and flat iron. It takes a proverbial slap from Model Mom — and a safari drive — to calm her down.
The participants all arrive with extra baggage, and not the type you can check. The Twins hope to restore their bond after years of icy relations. Model Mom is rediscovering her single self. The Re-Newlyweds are trying to squeeze the heck out of life after a scooter accident. Even Sandhurst has a goal: ‘To find a place to be naked.”
Although luxury travel is fresh material for the network (the new “Below Deck” also belongs in this category), “Tour Group” echoes other shows. It emulates the whirlwind pace of the “Amazing Race,” the rose blush of “The Bachelor” and the cattiness of the “Real Wives.” Rachel, the guide, shares the same food predilections as Andrew “Bizarre Foods” Zimmern. Jared, who is looking to “simplify and settle down,” is a perfect candidate for “Millionaire Matchmaker.” Heather, who is engaged for the 13th time, could resurface in “Untying the Knot.” Sandhurst belongs on Cinemax.
Derivatives and dramas aside, “Tour Group” does embrace the joy of travel. The camera lingers on the exotic scenery as much as it does on bare chests. In the first episode, the frenzied energy of the Marrakesh medina nearly oozes out of the TV screen. The travelers bumpity-bump-bump on a camel ride in the Atlas Mountains. In Kenya, they witness a tense hunt involving a leopard, a lion and a water buffalo. The scene, however, doesn’t end with a kill but with an urgent request for a bathroom.
The guides frequently remind the audience that they are watching a travel show. Brandon, who wrote for Lonely Planet guidebooks, drops a few facts about a place or people — casbahs, for instance, or the Berber lifestyle. Rachel encourages everyone to leave their McDonald’s hamburgers at home. One night in Marrakesh, she leads the charge on a sheep’s head, popping an eyeball like a jujube.
But ultimately, “Tour Group” is a Bravo show, and the locale often acts as a backdrop for the mini-soap operas. After two episodes, I want to know if Jared will hook up with one of the Twins — or both. And if they do, I hope it happens in Sri Lanka. I’ve always wanted to go there.
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